Saxophonist donates music archive to UConn
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 00:10
Revolutionary musician Fred Ho, who is enduring the final phase of his colorectal cancer, has donated his life’s work to UConn.
It is impossible to pinpoint Ho’s musical influences or to assign him to a genre simply because, on both counts, he has so many. He plays the Baritone Saxophone in an unsettling, rhythmic and engaging way – the instrument carving Ho a niche in Jazz, and even Swing music. Yet, he has been commissioned by such Classical music institutions as the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music and the American Composers Orchestra.
Ho has wide ranging interests, as evidenced by his “avant-garde” and eclectic musical record. Everything Ho creates, be it his plays, his music, or his writing, has intense political persuasion behind it. When speaking about the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement he said: “The proper response to unjust laws is to break them.” His humor is apparent in his music as well. Take, for example, his work titled: “The New World Odor, the Huge Farts of Red Meat Eating Imperialists Foul the Earth.”
Music is only another way for Ho to creatively express his political beliefs. He is foremost an activist. While at Harvard he began the East Coast Asian Student Union, and he is deeply invested in both the Black Power and Black Arts movements. As he wrote in the introduction of his “Tribute to the Black Arts Movement”: “I came to identify with the black struggle in drawing parallels…for the struggle of Asian/yellow peoples as a whole in the U.S. society to end racism, injustice, and inequality.” Ho noticed the intrinsic link between black arts and black rights, and wondered: “Where is our Asian Malcolm X? Or Langston Hughes? Or John Coltrane?”
Diagnosed with stage three-b colorectal cancer in 2006, Ho has not stopped creating. He refers to his newest musical piece, “Sweet Science Suite”, a tribute to Muhammad Ali, as his last work. All of his previous material can be found at UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. This includes his “essays, articles, poetry, music, commentaries, critical reviews, speeches, video recordings and musical recordings,” according to the Research Center.
Cathy Schlund-Vials, an Associate Professor of English and Asian American Studies at UConn and the director of the Asian American Studies institute, has met and spoken with Ho before. She explained how UConn acquired Ho’s work:
“The archive came to UConn by way of Roger Buckley (Founding Director, Asian American Studies Institute) and Angela Rola (Director, Asian American Cultural Center). They had gone to New York to attend one of Fred’s shows, and they were struck by the power and magnitude of his work (as one of the top Asian American fusion musicians in the nation). This occurred in the 1990s, and they developed a close relationship to Fred. Given the unique nature of the archive, which is relevant to Asian American and African American history, they thought it would be ideal to house it at UConn (to ensure that it would be used by scholars and students). I believe the archive first came in 1998/1999.”
Access to Ho’s work in the Dodd Center is unfettered and encouraged. Schlund-Vials added:
“For me, Fred Ho is not only a reminder of the very powerful politics that brought Asian American studies into being; he is also someone who is a significant race/class public intellectual.”